On Nephi, the tree of life, covering up sexual abuse, being sacked by the General Authorities, and RINOs

On Nephi, the tree of life, covering up sexual abuse, being sacked by the General Authorities, and RINOs August 5, 2022


17th cent. Azeri Lebensbaum
A seventeenth-century representation of the Tree of Life from the Shaki Khan Palace in Azerbaijan
(Wikimedia Commons public domain image)


Two new articles appeared today in Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship:


“Lehi’s Dream, Nephi’s Blueprint: How Nephi Uses the Vision of the Tree of Life as an Outline for 1 and 2 Nephi,” written by Noel B. Reynolds

Abstract: This essay harnesses the late twentieth-century discovery of Hebrew rhetoric by Bible scholars to identify Lehi’s dream as the foundation of the carefully constructed unity in Nephi’s writings and to identify previously unrecognized elements of that dream which are distributed throughout his final work. The teachings and prophecies in 1 and 2 Nephi are shown to derive from their shared dream/vision. Further, the entirety of Nephi’s writings in the Small Plates is shown to be a tightly designed rhetorical production that establishes the centrality of Christ’s identity, mission, and teachings for current and future generations of Lehi’s descendants and ultimately for the entire world. For decades, interpreters of the Book of Mormon and its teachings have singled out the vision of the tree of life given first to Lehi and subsequently to his son Nephi as one of the book’s most prominent elements that require careful study. While literary and visual artists continue to find inspiration in the human dramas retold throughout the book, the text itself features visualizations1 of its basic doctrinal messages: (1) God on his throne in heavenly council, (2) the tree of life with the straight and narrow path, the iron rod, and the great and spacious building, and (3) the allegory of the olive tree. As I will explain below, those three visual images are part of Lehi’s and Nephi’s great vision and provide the blueprint for the complex of covenant history and doctrinal teaching recorded by multiple authors throughout the entire book. This article will trace that blueprint in the structure and content of Nephi’s Small Plates with limited side glances at the rest of the text.


“Interpreting Interpreter: Visions as Scriptural Blueprint,” written by Kyler Rasmussen

This post is a summary of the article “Lehi’s Dream, Nephi’s Blueprint: How Nephi Uses the Vision of the Tree of Life as an Outline for 1 and 2 Nephi” by Noel Reynolds in Volume 52 of Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship.

An introduction to the Interpreting Interpreter series is available at https://interpreterfoundation.org/interpreting-interpreter-on-abstracting-thought/.

The Takeaway:  Reynolds argues that Nephi’s vision of the Tree of Life and Lehi’s initial theophanies in 1 Nephi 1 may be one and the same, and that this vision serves as a carefully structured outline for the spiritual content of the Small Plates, which is itself organized chiastically, highlighting the importance of the plan of salvation, God’s covenantal promises to his people, and individual adherence to the gospel of Christ.




An Associated Press story has gained considerable traction over the past couple of days, suggesting that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints covered up seven years of sexual abuse.  Inspired to new enthusiasm by the story, many critics are really beating the Church up.  They see the case as proof of fundamental corruption.  Several people have asked me about the story; some critics have challenged me, in particular, to respond to it.  But I have no special insight into the case and no specific knowledge of it beyond what little I’ve read.  (Even my own experience as a bishop gives me no particularly helpful background for commenting on the Arizona case; I was the bishop of a young single adult ward that had no children in it.)  But here are two helpful links from committed and believing Latter-day Saints, one official and one non-official, that concern the Associated Press story:


“Church Offers Statement on Help Line and Abuse: Church responds to recent Associated Press article about the Church’s abuse help line”

“Are Publicized Abuse Cases Exceptional or Representative of Our Faith?  Responses to key questions regarding the Associated Press report alleging attempts to cover up sexual abuse cases in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”




Steve Smoot alerted me a couple of days ago to the fact that John Dehlin is still claiming, on the basis of alleged inside information, that Elders Marlin Jensen and Jeffrey R. Holland were “involved” in my 2012 removal from BYU’s Maxwell Institute.  Supposedly, too, this was a “direct” result of my “unwillingness to back down.”


I’m not exactly sure just what it is from which I’m supposed to have refused to back down.  Mr. Dehlin likes to imagine that the Maxwell Institute drop-kicked me out the door because we were moving toward the publication of Greg Smith’s manuscript about, well, the views of John Dehlin.  (By the way, I’m happy for this opportunity to call attention yet again to that meticulously researched and eye-opening paper.  See “Gregory L. Smith’s Review of “Mormon Stories.”)  I don’t believe it to be true that Greg’s paper was the principal cause of my dismissal as editor of the FARMS Review, though it almost certainly played a role.   (There were at least one or two people in the Maxwell Institute at the time, it turns out, who were friendly to and sympathetic with Mr. Dehlin.  Presumably, they were his contacts and inside sources.  But the Greg Smith paper was never, ever, mentioned to me by anybody in any authority anywhere as a reason or justification for my dismissal.)


If, however, Mr. Dehlin is alleging that I refused to back down from publishing that article, he’s flatly wrong.  When, in a face-to-face meeting between the two of us, the late M. Gerald Bradford, who was the still relatively recently-appointed director of the Maxwell Institute, requested that we not run Greg’s article, I immediately agreed to his request, noting that we had another article in hand that we could easily substitute in its place.  My only question was whether we were being asked to withhold the article permanently or whether this was just a temporary request, pending Dr. Bradford’s having an opportunity to read it.  (He had not yet read it — virtually nobody had, outside of our editorial team — and, so far as I’m aware, he never did.)  My question was never answered.


The Maxwell Institute never did publish that substitute article, of course, because, shortly after our meeting, Dr. Bradford altogether terminated publication of the journal.  Coincidentally, though, the proposed replacement-article was also by Greg Smith, and it eventually appeared in Interpreter as ““Endless Forms Most Beautiful”: The uses and abuses of evolutionary biology in six works.”


But back to John Dehlin’s assertion that I was shown the door of the Maxwell Institute on the orders of Elders Jeffrey R. Holland and Marlin Jensen:  I have absolutely no reason to believe this to be true.  On the contrary, I have very strong reasons for my confidence that it is not true.  (I’ve shared some of the most convincing of those reasons orally, with people whom I trust not to publish them in print or on the internet, but — because they are based upon private conversations — I will not share them publicly unless and until my papers go into the L. Tom Perry Special Collections archive in Brigham Young University’s Harold B. Lee Library.)  To reiterate:  I flatly deny John Dehlin’s claim.


I’ve denied false claims about this matter from John Dehlin on several previous occasions, most particularly perhaps on 16 October 2013 and, in a reposted and slightly expanded version of that 2013 statement, in a blog entry posted here on 29 May 2017.  Here is that expanded statement, yet again:


“Once more, on my ouster from the Maxwell Institute”




I no longer have political opinions, of course, and I have no preference whatever among the various potential candidates for prime minister — whether Labour, Christian Social Union, Liberal, Social Democratic, Conservative, or from the Union de la droite et du centre — in the upcoming 2024 American election.  But I do have a fairly strong sense of history.


Last night, I watched a really tough television ad that featured Dick Cheney, who served from 2001 to 2009 as the Vice President of the United States of America.  He was speaking on behalf of somebody — I don’t remember his name — who is apparently running for Parliament or the Knesset or the Bundestag or something.  Given what he said, I expect Mr. Cheney to be denounced very soon as a RINO, a “Republican in Name Only.”  Being historically-minded, though, I need to remind everyone that we should show him some sympathy because he never really had much of a chance: He comes from a long line of RINOs.  He was Vice President in the administration of the RINO George W. Bush, who is the son of the RINO George H. W. Bush, who served as Vice President under the RINO Ronald Reagan, who first became famous when he delivered a televised address in support of the presidential candidacy of the RINO Barry Goldwater.  The challenge of RINOism goes back for literally decades.



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